A state court judge in Massachusetts has rejected an attempt by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to settle a class-action lawsuit in a Massachusetts workers’ pay dispute. Plaintiffs’ lawyers claimed that Wal-Mart reached a secret deal with a group of lawyers who were no longer active in the case. The lawsuit, filed by hourly workers, claimed Wal-Mart’s managers required them to work off-the-clock and denied or cut short rest and meal breaks. Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, agreed to settle the lawsuit for as much as $40 million and sought preliminary court approval.
Named Plaintiffs, Elaine Polion and Crystal Salvas, objected to the settlement agreement, claiming Wal-Mart sought out other lawyers after refusing a $50 million settlement demand in May. Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Thomas Murtagh refused to grant the requested preliminary approval on July 15th and appointed Carolyn Burton, who objected to the settlement, as the lead attorney for the Plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Judge Murtagh called the settlement process “tainted.” A trial is now scheduled for October 5th. I’m not sure which set of lawyers involved in this matter is correct as to what happened to the settlement or whether it was a good one, but I do know that a judge has control over those issues.
Wal-Mart agreed in December to pay as much as $640 million to settle more than 60 wage and hour class actions filed in state and federal courts. The giant retailer also agreed in December to pay $54.3 million to settle a class-action suit by Minnesota hourly workers claiming violations of wage and hour laws. Obviously, the Massachusetts case referred to above wasn’t among those settled. Nor did Wal-Mart settle lawsuits in Pennsylvania and California, where juries returned verdicts for the workers. The company appealed a $78 million jury verdict in Pennsylvania in 2006 over rest breaks and unpaid work and a $172 million verdict in California in 2005 over meal breaks.
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